Wednesday, July 13, 2016

façade: George Roy Hill

The unfairly neglected George Roy Hill (1921-2002)

George Roy Hill made 14 major films in about 25 years before retiring in 1988 to teach his craft at Yale, and from where I sit, there isn't really one embarrassment among them. Wait! I take that back: There's ”Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a film that I dislike to the point of irrationality.

He was an active force in New York during the 1950s, directing both plays and live TV dramas, including among other titles, the original Playhouse 90 production of Abby Mann's "Judgment at Nuremberg" in 1959 (wherein Maximilian Schell played the same role that would inevitably win him an Oscar two years later for the 1961 Stanley Kramer film version).

Hill directed the original stage production of the Tennessee Williams comedy, "Period of Adjustment," and when MGM made it into a movie in 1962, Hill was part of the package, guiding star Jane Fonda through one of her most charming performances. He followed this directorial debut with another filmed play, Lillian Hellman's "Toys in the Attic," made a year later and starring Dean martin, Geraldine Page and Wendy Hiller.

His third film was the very charming and very urbane 1964 Peter Sellers lark, "The World of Henry Orient," which Hill would also direct as a terrific Broadway musical, titled "Henry, Sweet Henry," in 1967. Two films with Julie Andrews followed in 1966 and '67, both roadshow attractions - "Hawaii" and the dreaded "Thoroughly Modern Millie," respectively.

Then came "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"in 1969.  It was his sixth film, it was topped by two genuine movie stars - you know, Newman and Redford - and it was a huge hit.

From that point on, Hill helmed a pleasingly eclectic selection of titles, including "A Little Romance" (1979), the Laurence Olivier/Diane Lane trifle, and Diane Keaton's "Little Drummer Girl" (1984).

"Slaughterhouse-Five" (1972) and "The World According to Garp" (1982), arguably, his two best films, followed and then he reunited with "Cassidy/Sundance" stars - you know, Paul and Robert - for the Oscar-winning "The Sting" (1973), himself taking the best director award that year.

And he would subsequently also direct Bob in "The Great Waldo Pepper" (1975) and Paul in "Slap Shot" (1977), both fine, sturdy films.

His last film was "The Funny Farm," with Chevy Chase, made in 1988. Hill died from complications from Parkinson's disease in 2002, at the age 81.  He is much-missed and way too under-appreciated.


edward c. said...

While I agree that Hill is underrated, Hawaii is fairly long, dull and disjointed and, yes, Thoroughly Modern Millie is downright embarrassing at times.

joe baltake said...

My mind has dulled, Edward, where "Hawaii" is concerned but you are dead-right in your choice of adjectives to describe it. I made a point of saying as little as possible about both it and "Millie." Still, as part of the whole Hill canvas, they show how varied his career was and how game he was to try anything - for better or (as in these two cases) worse.

John said...

"Period of Adjustment” is a great antidote to the sugary Christmas theme movies we get today. A terrific cast with, as you mention, a charming performance from Jane Fonda. Except for the two films that you and Edward mention (Millie and Hawaii), his work truly ranges from good to excellent. Even “Funny Farm,” not a good film, is not without its appeal.

wwolfe said...

I've always thought it was very interesting that Hill, who had a reputation as a "man's man," did such a sensitive, subtle job directing the two girls at the center of "The World of Henry Orient." This film is a wonderful snapshot of Manhattan moments before the Beatles arrived and "The Sixties" - as a concept, rather than a chronological unit - began.

Vienna said...

Gosh, what's not to like about Thoroughly Modern Milllie? I like the stars and the songs.

joe baltake said...

Vienna! What's not to like? The story. Absolutely awful. That said, here's the link to an essay "Millie," titled "Thoroughly Awful," that I wrote back in '14: